The body and reproduction of femininity
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The Body and Reproduction of Femininity. Susan Bordo. Thesis. This essay focus on the analysis of one particular arena that the interplays of several dynamics is striking and exemplary.

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Thesis

  • This essay focus on the analysis of one particular arena that the interplays of several dynamics is striking and exemplary.

  • Disorders like anorexia, hysteria and agoraphobia may be resistance that undercuts and is utilized as a reproduction of power relations.

  • With her central mechanism involving a transformation of meaning, Bordo intends to exemplify that various contemporary critical discourses can be joined and generate an understanding of the unwitting role which our bodies play in the symbolization and reproduction of gender.


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Reconstructing Feminist Discourse on the Body

  • The concept of “body”– a medium of culture

    • The body is more than a text of culture. According to Bourdieu and Foucault, it is a practical, direct locus of social control.

  • An effective political discourse expected


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The Concept of “body”

  • Body as a medium of culture

    • Bourdieu: culture as a made body, can be converted into automatic, habitual activity.

    • Foucault: the primacy of practice over belief is not chiefly through ideology, but through the organization and regulation of the time, space and movements of our daily lives. These means make our bodies trained, shaped, and impressed with prevailing historical forms of selfhood, desire, masculinity, femininity.


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The Concept of body

  • Body as a medium of culture

    • Docile bodies –

      • Female bodies forces and energies are habituated, to external regulation, subjection , transformation and “improvement.”

      • “Through the exacting and normalizing disciplines of diet, makeup, and dress, women are rendered less socially oriented and more centripetally focused on self-modification.”

      • “The discipline and normalization of the female body[…] has to be acknowledged as an amazingly durable and flexible strategy of social control.”


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Reconstructing Feminist Discourse on the Body

  • An effective political discourse expected

    • In the era that appearance is the contemporary preoccupation, when applying Foucault’s idea, it is important that we think of the network of practices, institutions, and technologies that sustain positions of dominance and subordination in a particular domain.


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Reconstructing Feminist Discourse on the Body

  • An effective political discourse expected

    • We need an analytics to describe a power, not repressive but constitutive.

    • We need a discourse to “account for the subversion of potential rebellion”; a discourse that not merely insists on objectively analysis on power relations, social hierarchy, political backlashes, but also confronts the difficulty and entrapment that “the subject” at times is trapped in sustaining “her own oppression.”


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The Body as a Text of Femininity

  • History of female disorder and “normal” feminine practice

  • Disordered body as a text – Reading of the slender body

  • A double bind


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History of female disorder and “normal” feminine practice

  • Symptoms of disorder

    • Among most close reading or analysis of disorder, women appear to be apparently much more vulnerable (than men).

      • 19th Century – Neurasthenia and hysteria

      • 20th Century – Agoraphobic, anorexia nervosa, bulimia


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History of female disorder and practice“normal” feminine practice

  • Symptoms could be regarded as the text and be analyzed as a textuality

    • Symptoms of disorders contain symbolic or political meanings that can be taken as reflections upon the constructed and existed gender roles

    • Examples

      • Women are expected to fee, to serve, to sacrifice; they starve themselves and whittling down the space they/their bodies take up.


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History of female disorder and practice“normal” feminine practice

  • Symptoms could be regarded as the text and be analyzed as a textuality

    • An ideological construction of femininity

      • Femininity is constructed and the definition of femininity is homogenized and normalized disregard of race, class and other differences.

      • Disordered female bodies – aggressive texts/graphics for interpreters


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History of female disorder and practice“normal” feminine practice

  • Historical “normal” feminine practice

    • 19th Century: the definition of “lady” and the traits of a “lady”

      • Delicacy, dreaminess, sexually passive, charmingly labile and capriciously emotional


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History of female disorder and practice“normal” feminine practice

  • Historical “normal” feminine practice

    • In various literary texts and scientific reports, the term “hysteria” becomes

      • interchangeable with the term “feminine”

      • formalized and scientized in male theorists’ works (Norton 2366)


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History of female disorder and practice“normal” feminine practice

  • Historical “normal” feminine practice

    • Femininity is constructed through stadardized visual images.

      • Femininity: a matter of constructing

      • Femininity: the appropriate surface presentation of self

    • Example: 1950s~1960s agoraphobia


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Disordered body as a text practice– Reading the slender body

  • 1950s~1960s – agoraphobia

    • emerged at a period of reaffirmation of domesticity and dependency as the feminine ideal

    • “career women”– a dirty word

    • movie and screen images as examples

  • The emaciated body of the anorectic

    • “a caricature of the contemporary ideal of hyperslenderness for women, an ideal bodily form l for women nowadays still


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A Double Bind practice

A Double Bind

  • Women – emotional and physical nurturer

    • “The rules for this construction of femininity […] require that women learn to fee others, not the self”(2367).

    • Self-feeding is taken as greedy and excessive for women who are expected to develop an other-oriented emotional economy.


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A Double Bind practice

  • Femininity + Masculinity  the anorexic as an extreme performer

    • Women are continually taught “feminine” virtues and are also expected (simultaneously) to learn the “masculine’ language and value.

  • Popular images of femininity and masculinity

    • The androgynous ideal hence tears the subject into two.


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Protest and Retreat in the Same Gesture practice

  • Muteness as a way to protest

    • A feminine slim body that demonstrates well-control and self-mastery

    • American and French feminists interpret the hysteric speaking as a protest through their muteness.

      • Dianne Hunter and other Lacanian feminists’ view on the hysteric’s regressive and expressive articulation to patriarchal thought

    • Catherine Clement – the hysterics accuse and points

    • Helene Cixous – Dora as an example


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Protest and Retreat in the Same Gesture practice

  • Muteness as a way to protest

    • Literary protest

      • Robert Seidenberg and Karen DeCrow as examples

      • Carroll Smith Rosenberg

      • Susie Orbach – the anorectic uses “hunger strike” to express a “political discourse”


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Retreat practice

  • Kim Chernin

    • By intervening personal development, the anorexic may assuage the guilt and separation anxiety:

      • Of being surpassed their mothers (in terms of freedom?)

      • Of living freer lives ( Is that possible?)

  • Agoraphobia

    • usually happens shortly after marriage

    • a way to weld dependency and attachment


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Retreat practice

  • The self-destructing nature of the protest

    • The symptoms of disorders actually isolate and weaken the sufferer.

    • The life of the body becomes the anorectic’s fetish.

    • For the hysterics:

      • They use their bodies to express.

      • Muteness turns them into silent and uncomplaining woman.

      • Their muteness can be regarded as a gesture of

        • rejecting the symbolic order of the patriarchy;

        • Recovering a lost world of semiotic, maternal value.


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Collusion, Resistance, and the Body practice

  • A Social Formation

    • During historical periods of cultural backlash, which challenges reorganization and redefining male and female roles, hysteria and anorexia come across to their peak.

    • Female pathology which is a form of social formation later presses potential resistance and rebellion to maintain the existed gendered order.


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Collusion, Resistance, and the Body practice

  • A Social Formation

    • No matter what sort of objective social condition/formation create the female pathology, the subject is the one that always produces the symptoms.

    • The body is invested with various meanings by the individual/subject.

    • By embodying the body with meanings, we may perceive how the subject’s dream and desire are weaved into the matrix of the power relations.


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Collusion, Resistance, and the Body practice

  • Anorectic’s body – Anorexia is a feminine practice

    • Anorexia began as moderate diet regime.

    • Anorexia came out as a conventional feminine practice, often undertaken by patriarchal remarks.

    • Female finds the way to control the need and the want, a sense of triumph is thus formed


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Collusion, Resistance, and the Body practice

  • Anorexia as a feminine practice

    • Finding the idea that self-mastery and self-transcendence, expertise and power over the body are regarded as superior will and control is appealing, a habit is hence formed by female.

    • Anorectics enjoy their slender bodies admired and viewed as a project of self-mastery.

    • The anorectic realizes that a female body is vulnerable and at times treated as a child’s body.


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Collusion, Resistance, and the Body practice

  • Anorexia as a feminine practice

    • The Anorexic’s experience of power is illusory

      • Reshaping the body does not mean they are able to gain male power or privilege.

      • “To feel autonomous and free while harnessing body and soul to an obsessive body-practice is to serve, not transform, a social order that limits female possibilities” (2373).


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Textuality, Praxis, and the Body practice

  • A tension between the meaning and the practical life of he disordered body

  • Two different bodies under the same discourse

  • A possible suggestion to the further development of feminism

  • Conclusion


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Two different bodies under the same discourse practice

  • The intelligible body

    • Scientific, philosophic, and aesthetic representations of the body

  • The useful body

    • The one that is shaped and trained by practical rules and regulations in the presentation of cultural conceptions of the body


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Two different bodies under the same discourse practice

  • Cooperation of these 2 bodies

    • 19th Century the ideal female body of “hourglass” figure:

      • intelligible symbolic form that represents a domestic and sexualized ideal of femininity

      • became a useful body through feminine praxis

    • 17th Century concept of the body as a machine


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Two different bodies under the same discourse practice

  • Contradiction of these 2 bodies

    • “Exposure and productive cultural analysis of such contradictory and mystifying relations between image and practice are possible only if the analysis includes attention to and interpretation of the ‘useful’ […] the practical body” (2375).

    • Images and presentation of pop culture


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A possible suggestion to the further development of feminism practice

  • Comparison of two feminist praxises


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A suggestion to the further development of feminism practice

  • Helena Michie’s The Flesh Made Word

    • makes metaphorical connections between female eating and female sexuality

    • discusses female hunger as “unspeakable desires for sexuality and power”

    • A lack: eating disorder that has inchoated from 19th Century as yet is not mentioned.


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Conclusion practice

  • Bordo views bodies as “site of struggle” where we must work on so as to carry on daily practices that resist gender domination, docility and gender. She suggests that we ought to be more aware of the existing contradictions “between image and practice, rhetoric and reality” (2376).


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